In the business world, customer service trainers often talk about criticism sandwiches. If you have something negative to say to an employee, you surround it with two compliments. The criticism is like the meat of the sandwich, and the compliments are like the bread. Here’s an example:
“I’m really happy with your organizational skills. I think you plan things out really well. I would, however, like you to work a bit faster with your paperwork. Some of your documents are late. Overall, though, everything is filled out really thoroughly.”
Do you see what I did? The criticism is about paperwork. I basically said, “Your paperwork is too slow. Be faster!” If I just said that, though, I would sound like a very mean boss. Instead, I surround my criticism with two smaller compliments: organization and thoroughness. By doing this, the employee is more receptive to my feedback. He doesn’t lose confidence, and I don’t sound like a bad guy.
The criticism sandwich is great for office relationships, but its structure can also be used in the IELTS Speaking Test. Basically, speaking is graded by (among other things) complexity of ideas and sentences. If some of your answers are like sandwiches, then you are adding complexity in the easiest way possible. Instead of compliments and criticism, you can think of negatives and positives.
Let’s look at this sample speaking question:
“What’s your favorite sport?”
Here’s a terrible answer: “Football.”
Here’s a better answer: “My favorite sport is football.”
Here’s an even better answer: “My favorite sport is football, because it’s simple, and I like to play with my friends.”
That last answer is pretty good, but the idea isn’t very complex. Now, let’s try to answer it like a sandwich.
“I’d say football is my favorite sport. It’s very simple, and I have no problem understanding all the rules. Of course, it can get a bit dangerous sometimes. Players often fall down and hurt themselves. Still, it’s a great sport to play with friends.”
My answer is like a sandwich: Positive/Negative/Positive. I kept the same two ideas (“simple” and “friends”), but I added one negative idea in the middle (“dangerous”). By structuring my answer this way, I’m adding complexity. It also forces me to use transition words, which is always helpful. Answers like these will help me with my Fluency and Coherence band scores, and if my sentences are correct and complex enough, they can also improve my Grammar scores.
Try it the next time someone asks you a simple yes or no question. Remember: everybody loves sandwiches.